Starting school – Arrrggghhh!


“Hands up all the children who have a tornister.”

Sorry for gap in posting but read this and you’ll realise it’s been a tough week!

Zosia started “proper” school on 1st September and at the moment we’re all wishing she hadn’t! For the last three years Zosia has been attending play-school / pre-school and we now realise what a holiday camp that was. Start & finish times were fairly relaxed and there wasn’t much to worry about other than dropping her off, letting her have some fun and then picking her up.

When it comes to proper school though, the amount of faffing around required before she even gets there is quite amazing even though she’s only in ‘zerówka’, the year between play-school and really proper school. M has been fantastic in making sure that Zosia is replete with about a hundred items ranging from hats for swimming to pencil sharpeners, books, pencils, glue and so on. All these things need to be kept in something in the classroom so a hunt for suitably sized boxes was undertaken that took in almost every shop in Warsaw. In fact, if you combine the box hunt with the ‘sticky plastic to protect books with’ hunt, it involved more man hours than Scott’s two trips to the Antarctic.

Of course, storage in the classroom is fine but you also have to do a lot more transporting to and from school, which sparked “The Great Tornister Hunt” that lasted most of our holiday (there is not a shop in Italy that sells backpack-like things that we have not been into) and into our first few days back in Warsaw. Eventually we found a shop on Mokotowska selling imported German ones, not cheap mind you. In case you’re ignorant like what I was – a tornister, wonderful word straight from the German, is essentially a stiff backpack, best demonstrated with a picture:


A gaggle of tornisters

Even the small ones are quite big for a six year old so in the end we bought a backpack for now and a tornister for next year or whenever the emergency deployment of a tornister might be required. They do look to be useful floatation devices in fact so it may become standard equipment for boat trips as well.

Equipment sorted we started worrying about getting her there on time. School starts at 08:00 and as we live about 5 mins from school I was gearing up to leave at 07:50 and all is well. Then we had the ‘parent’s meeting’ with Pani Teacher who kept saying ‘dobrze?!’ after she’d imparted some knowledge like she was expecting us to answer “Jawohl, Herr Kommandant!!“. One of her pearls of wisdom was that she expects the kids to be ready in the holding pen downstairs at precisely 07:50 so she can collect them and take them up to class. Any kids not in the holding pen at this time will have to hang around down there until a break when the lazy ones will be granted access. This brought howls of very confusing complaint from one parent, with some support from other Łomiankiites,  who appeared to blaming the teacher for the fact that Łomianki, where they live, is a long way from Młociny, where the school is and the traffic between the two is awful and takes 50 minutes driving time. This logic was being used as a lever to shift the drop time from 07:50 to 08:15 or thereabouts. Pani Kommandant wasn’t impressed, who would be? She avoided making observations about parental decisions on where to live and which schools to choose, more than I would have done, and re-stated her 07:50 rule. So, by the time you factor in the 07:50 rule, the busy traffic around the school at last-minute-drop-time, the waking up of tired children, the washing, dressing, breakfast & packing the backpack, my 07:50 leaving home is now more like 07:25 and the alarm is set for 06:30. Bloody nightmare!

The whole ‘getting kids to school’ thing is brand new for our family and is clearly something we’re going need time to adjust to. My respect for families with multiple school-age kids grows ever stronger.

Aside from the teacher’s apparent inability to switch between child and adult communication modes, there were a few other things that struck me during the parent’s meeting. Perhaps worth explaining the type of school first. The school is a “Społeczna Szkoła Podstawowa”, which as I understand it is somewhere between a public school (essentially free) and a full-blown (and usually very expensive) private school. It might be called in English a “Cooperative, almost non-profit, private school”. The costs of such schools vary but to give you an idea of the difference in costs I can compare what we are paying versus fees for ‘The British School in Warsaw’ as published on their website. Making some allowances for extra-curricular activities as yet unknown, Zosia’s annual fees will amount to roughly 9,000 PLN. The basic annual cost of The British School is 50,950 PLN. The annual cost of Zosia’s play-school was about 15,000 PLN. Some big differences there! So, on the basis that it is good, cheap, very close to home and populated by a number of people we already know, we decided to go the społeczny route.

One of the consequences of the low cost cooperative system became clear in the parent’s meeting. There were a few items of capital expense that arose during the discussion because although the classroom has all the basic essentials, and I mean basic, there are a few things missing. A water dispenser was talked about in response to the teacher’s reluctance to allow kids to go downstairs to the tuck shop to buy water if they need a drink and the parent’s reluctance to put two bottles of water in the backpack. There’s nowhere near enough shelving or cupboard space to house all the big boxes of kit and there’s no CD player to provide music or to play the discs that came with the books we bought. My simple logic assumed these should be provided by the school but to my surprise there ensued a debate amongst the parents as to the best way that we could provide these items, at our cost. As this involves a committee I have no doubt we will still be debating it at the end of the school year.

The last thing to surprise me, although it shouldn’t after all this time, was the use of the generic word ‘religion’ to mean specifically Catholicism. This relates to the extra-curricular class on ‘religious studies’. This is not a strongly religious school, a good thing in my opinion, but classes are available as an option albeit that the only options are Catholicism or nothing! As the kommandant was banging on about ‘religia’ assuming it is blindingly obvious that this means Catholicism I had to fight pretty hard not to put my hand up and ask which religion she was talking about. This surely has to change at some point even if only to satisfy a boring EU law about discrimination. If they are going to provide religious education then it should contain about 50% on the religion of the country or school and the remaining time on the other religions of the world. That would be education. As it stands today though, it is called religious education but is in fact Catholic indoctrination. Trade descriptions act maybe? Even if the school doesn’t bring religious education into the C21st the parents may force a rethink. I don’t have the figures but there is a surprising number of children who have been opted out of ‘religia’.

13 thoughts on “Starting school – Arrrggghhh!

  1. OMG – this was an education in itself for me!!
    Not having kids, I am constantly amazed at the amount of extra supplies needed to be bought by parents and brought to school by the kids. Is nothing supplied beyond a room and a teacher? It makes me wonder how children (especially only chldren) learn to share if everyone brings their own glue sticks and pencils?

    And what happened to water fountains? Do kids Zosia’s age know how to use a tuck shop?

  2. >my 07:50 leaving home is now more like 07:25 and the alarm is set for 06:30.

    Half past six? You were lucky… There were 13 of us living in shoe box in middle of road…

    It’s been like this for 12 years (see >this post:) and another five to go.

    The British School in Warsaw is prohibitively expensive. The figure you quoted is over one and a quarter times the average Polish wage. This would be the equivalent of charging day-pupils £30,500 a year in primary school fees in the UK. Harrow charges £28,545 a year which includes full board.

  3. Is there a 7.50 rule in the law regarding the provision of education to children? Is there no rule regarding the arbitrary ‘punishment’ of children by witholding there education because they are a few minutes late, and come to think of it, I’m sure there’s an ‘I will sue the school if my child is witheld from education’ rule?

  4. We’re having the same problem – we have my mother-in-law here to help us get into routine (it’s good to have someone to do the ironing and washing for the first week), but will be on our own from next Monday. 0630 seems to be the right time to fall out of bed, but earlier nights are needed from now on!

    We signed the boys up for football training at the British School on Saturday – I have also been volunteered to be a coach for the 4-5 year olds. You never know, I might learn something about football. But why you would pay 50,000 PLN a year to send your child there is beyond me. The facilities are excellent, but I don’t think the education is any better than the private Polish schools. If you’re child speaks Polish, it really makes no sense.

  5. The reason to send your kids to the British School is obvious. In order that you’re child can mix with children whose parents can afford the fees. Presumably most of these children’s parents will continue with their expensive education, and the chances are that many of these toddlers will be people of influence (or connected with people of influence) in the future and worth knowing personally as a result.

  6. Violet – they certainly do know how to use a tuck shop but I’m not sure they can be trusted to buy the right things.

    Michael – you must be used to it by now then! Actually, this second week is already feeling far better than the last.

    Ad – I look forward to reports when your little one starts school and you tackle the teachers head on about such issues! ;)

    The only sense of the British School, and indeed the American/German/European and so on, is for EX-PATS who will only be here a short while (1-3 years) and who are not paying school fees themselves. Perhaps also for wealthy Poles who wish to show off.

  7. Ad – I find that mentality quite hard to accept, but I think you are partially right. I’d rather my children grow up to be well-rounded and sensible individuals than be money-chasing idealists. I know a few people who constantly talk about their ‘contacts’ and how important ‘networking’ is, but I really can’t see what good it’s doing them!! And I know many people with a lot of money who are deeply unhappy. So why enforce the importance of it onto your children at that early age? They might as well enjoy their childhood whilst they can, free from the pressures of real life. Plus, those parents that believe that money is all-important often work ridiculously long hours to gain the luxuries in life. Sadly, many of them are missing out on what’s important – seeing their children grow up. It’s all down to priorities I guess.

  8. yellerbelly – I entirely agree although my comment was slightly tongue in cheek. Presumably there must also be some benefit from at least letting your child rub shoulders with all sorts of nationalities (especially at the age of 6 onwards) and I imagine the ‘expat’ or multilingual private schools do offer that opportunity (which is not open to the general school populace).

    Ian – yep, know what you mean. Will I want to rock the boat? If I lose my temper there’s not telling what stupid things I might do :) I wait to see what sort of school we chose and what ‘rules’ they apply. Good to have your early pointer regarding teacher beahviour. Please keep us updated on this front. I can see a new topic for discussion i.e. The Polish Pedagog

  9. The trouble with allowing your kid to mix with the jet-set at these swanky schools, apart from the things Yellerbelly said, is that you’re just building your little darling’s expectations up to a point that may become unsustainable. It’s not just the school fees, it’s the parties, the holidays, the clothes, the gadgets that would be demanded via peer pressure. If you’re not prepared to ‘keep up with the Jones’s’ in all respects then it may even be cruel to send your kid there in the first place.

    i think a smart kid will get on whatever the school (within reason) and whoever they have been rubbing shoulders with.

    As for the Polish Pedagog. I think a lot of it is just not being comfortable talking to parents. They spend all their time communicating with kids and then have to address us at the same time as worrying about saying something they shouldn’t.

  10. The British School’s pupils are like 30% Korean (or so it seems, no offence there, Koreans), leavened by the children of here-today-gone-tomorrow expats, and then there’s the children of embassy staff that pay the fees without asking questions re: value for money.

    I must confess to having ridden that train for our first three years in Warsaw, while I was an expat manager and my employer was paying the fees, great. But then we settled permanently, moved into our own house and decided that Poland was where our children would grow up. And we’ve not regretted it!

    I do have a residual pang of loss that Moni’s not doing the IB at the British School (prior to going onto Oxford to read PPE), but hell, she’s very happy where she is in one of Warsaw’s best Liceums (free!) and with a good idea of where she wants to go and study.

    I would advise bilingual parents to keep strictly to English at home, so that children going to Polish schools end up like ours, entirely accent-free in both languages, totally bi-cultural, shoulders free of chips.

  11. Scatts,

    it’s good to you you don’t have got problems with money.
    Problems some of polish parents with it are written in todays “Metro”.
    Nie dam! – Jak to powiedzieć w szkole? / I won’t give! – How it say in school?
    “prices” for obligatory fee:
    parental committee – 30 – 100 zł
    insurance – 40 zł
    trip – 550 zł (5 days)
    xero – 50 zł
    cinema, theatre or museum – from 5 to 20 zł for a one entrance (few in the semester)
    security – 80 zł
    swimmingpool – 30 zł / month
    and finally
    I hope this will be your favorite: :D
    stuff to the religion – 25 zł
    Interesting what it will be? Hope: cross as big as possible, bible and aspergillum for all those unbelievers and devil’s bastards!!!
    In my times it was only notebook and a book to religion.

    (+ informal money for nameday of teachers/ flowers to the end of the year / Santa Claus gifts etc.)
    I am not talking about books, pens, pencils, notebooks, canteen etc.

    Those parents who were sexual very active and prolific ;-) have got big problems with all these collections, especially when they earn medium polish salary or even less. How to say “No! I will not give any pens more!” in the front of other parents? and not to be founded as a poor or just outsider (and also don’t doom child for the social isolation)?

    I am against the religion in the school.
    When I was in primary it was only in parishes, so they went only these one who really wanted or whole class in primary and half in high school.
    After all in my opinion it was better even for the religion!
    That “areola” of mystic, secret, “conspiracy” was attractive for young people almost as having mystery lovers! ;-)))

  12. Very interesting post. Times sure have changed since I went to school. I don’t think I had to buy anything but some paper and pencils. I went to catholic school for 3 yrs then switched to public. Only needed a uniform to buy then. Today with budget cuts many supplies are needed and the teachers sometimes buy them. Not having any rugrats of my own I’m not sure what the expense is today. Lot of it is formed by peers and parents I think. Here we have Playschool, Kidergarten and then 1st grade so is Zosia in Kindergarten or 1st grade. I didn’t think much was required for K. We always got a better education here in Catholic schools but sadly they are disappearing.

  13. Material, great breakdown of some of the costs involved even in state schools. Thanks & yes, it must be very hard for some people to make ends meet especially if they have multiple offspring.

    Chris, my memory is not good enough to remember what I needed at school but uniform was certainly one of them. I suppose we are lucky not to have to buy a uniform for Zosia although it may be cheaper than what she does wear!

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